A month in Bethlehem living with the children of the Holy Land

Giacomo Pizzi25 September 2012

Cristina, who is just over twenty years old, spent a month with small children in Bethlehem, helping the sisters at the Antonian Charitable Society crèche and the Hogar Niño Dios, who run a home for disabled children. These are the same kids that ATS pro Terra Sancta helps as part of the project “Bethlehem and the children of the Holy Land“. Once back home, looking back on her experiences, Cristina tells us:

“I wanted to live in Bethlehem for a while to try to understand more about the Israeli-Palestinian situation. After reading articles and books, I wanted to try to observe a bit more for myself, immerse myself a little in it, live there, explore. And it occurred to me to try to make myself useful at the same time – for what can be done in such a short space of time, when as soon as you arrive it’s already time to leave -, that it might lend value to the journey, help me focus on people, being with the people. So I wrote to Sister Lucia of the Caritas Baby Hospital, who then directed me to ATS pro Terra Sancta.

I really wanted to have this experience, I’d fantasised a bit about how it would be, but I didn’t really know what to expect… And once in Bethlehem, at the beginning it was all a discovery, with wonder and indignation at the imprisonment and the families separated by the wall, Israeli control over the water, the settlers … and also at all the internal contradictions of Palestinian society. In Italy, in a way that’s overly simplistic and hasty, people often divide Palestinians and Israelis into good and bad, or vice versa. I realised that it’s difficult and even wrong to try to judge when I live in a place where people are well off and I have everything I need, in fact I have a lot more than I need, and of course there are many problems, but they’re in a whole other dimension.

I really liked working at the crèche run by the nuns of the Antonian Charitable Society, I helped out with simple things: playing with the children, giving them something to eat or changing them. The teachers were really nice, perhaps because they saw me as still a child myself, and they really took care of me. The two younger ones only spoke Arabic, but even this was great: we managed to communicate, me with my limited knowledge of classical Arabic, a few gestures here and there. It was lovely; it enabled me to understand how they live, the difficulties, the differences. In general, I soon felt at home at the Antonian Charitable Society (where Cristina was also staying): the sisters took me to their hearts and I soon grew fond of them.

Lastly, my experience the Hogar Niño Dios, where the Sisters of the Incarnate Word look after disabled children. For me, this experience was the more tiring, especially at the beginning, and the one that put me in a more difficult position. But it was also the one that, now back at home, I hold in my heart more and want to keep close. I found myself there, there were always plenty of things to do, excited kids, the nuns always busy, and at the beginning I didn’t know where to put my hands, I didn’t know what the different children needed, how I could be with them, how I could help. I had never spent time with people with disabilities so severe and it really upset me, it made me feel sad and helpless seeing them so tender and so imprisoned by their illness, some abandoned by their parents, some who “went crazy” over such little things, but then smiled and were okay for the sisters to hug them or something like that. Seeing the older girls and thinking that they have lived a whole lifetime, who knows the burden of their experiences, even suffering, that they carry inside… I tried wish them better, even though the children often irritated me, made me really annoyed, and I was often disappointed in myself because I thought I would be better, more able to put myself to good use. I wondered how the sisters at the Hogar Niño Dios manage to start again every day and be so loving every day, without it becoming a burden, even if they’re so tired every single time evening comes around… perhaps it’s their faith?

In my own small way, I tried to help these children of Bethlehem and I realised on my way home that what I received during my month in the Holy Land was really a lot more than I was able to give while there.”